*A white assistant professor at the University of Kansas has been suspended after she admitted to using the N-word during a class discussion about race.
Five students have filed discrimination complaints with the university against Andrea Quenette, a 33-year-old associate professor of communication studies. The complaints argue that the she violated university policy. Students have been calling for Quenette’s termination, both in the letter and on Twitter with the hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette.
The incident took place in Quenette’s Communications Studies 930 class, intended to teach graduate students tips for instructing undergraduates in their own classes.
One student who attended Quenette’s class said there were nine white students and one black student present when the comment was made on Nov. 12. A classmate sparked conversation about ways to address issues of racism in the classroom, which evolved into a discussion about campus-wide efforts to eradicate racism.
In an open letter published on Medium last week calling for Quenette’s termination, one of the nine students, Amy Schumacher, detailed how it all went down:
We students in the class began discussing possible ways to bring these issues up in our classes when COMS 930 instructor Dr. Andrea Quenette abruptly interjected with deeply disturbing remarks. Those remarks began with her admitted lack of knowledge of how to talk about racism with her students because she is white. “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism…It’s not like I see ‘Nigger’ spray painted on walls…” she said.
As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief. Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself.
After Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented strong evidence about low retention and graduation rates among Black students as being related to racism and a lack of institutional support, Dr. Quenette responded with, “Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.” This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies, and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful, and blatantly discriminatory.
Quenette told the Lawrence Journal-World that she would have apologized at the time if anyone had seemed offended, but her students kept silent. She believes that academic freedom protects her comments, which she insists were part of the conversation and weren’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“I didn’t direct my words at any individual or group of people,” she told the Lawrence Journal-World. “It was an open conversation about a serious issue that is affecting our campus, and it will affect our teachers. In that regard, I consider it within my purview… to talk about those issues.”
The administration is currently conducting an investigation, and in that time, Quenette requested, and was granted, a paid leave of absence. She will be required to stay off campus during the investigation.
The day before the incident, the university had held a wide-ranging forum about discrimination and race, reports Associated Press, following protests and discussions at college campuses nationwide.